Austria, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland and the United States
Disfigurement and Defacement in (Post)World-War-I Art: Francis Derwent Wood, Anna Coleman Ladd, Hannah Höch, and Kader Attia
In his famous article entitled “Autobiography as De-Facement” (1979), Paul de Man addresses some of the dilemmas of autobiographical writing, which in the last decades of the twentieth century, as Philippe Lejeune’s early research amply illustrates, still focused on exceptional life experiences of outstanding figures. De Man does not question the hierarchical view of human lives and of auto/biographies, much rather he takes exception to Lejeune’s claim that “the identity of autobiography is not only representational and cognitive, but contractual, grounded not in tropes but in speech acts.” Moving along these lines, de Man subverts the idea of autobiography as a medium that allows the author to reveal “reliable self-knowledge” (922). Dismissing Lejeune’s argument, de Man points to the example of William Wordsworth’s autobiographical Essays upon Epitaphs (1810), viewing it “as a discourse of self-restoration” (925), but at the same time also as a discourse of mortality which “deprives and disfigures to the precise extent that it restores. Autobiography,” de Man concludes, “veils a defacement of the mind of which it is itself the cause” (930). While questioning the concepts of subjectivity and consciousness, de Man undermines the facile faith in a continuous narrative that offers the order of cause and effect, allows totalizing gestures and has a preferably uplifting closure.
Although used by de Man for an entirely different purpose, the concept of defacement comes to mind, irrepressibly, in the context of the problem first encountered by humanity on a mass scale...
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